‘I felt inconsolable’

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WOLFENSTEIN: THE NEW ORDER
Machinegame(s)
Bethesda Softworks
PC, PS4, XB1, PS3, 360
2014, $59.99

I sat down at the little table at the bar, wiped the extra ink off my pen, and stared down at the blank page in front of me. I didn’t know what I wanted to write. The words I had vaguely felt like starting with were “I feel disappointed.” Why? What disappoints me? It wasn’t because I felt disappointed that I wanted to start that way, but because I thought it could be an entrance to a character wandering a ruptured and dangerous world that didn’t quite resolve: weird mirrors, secret passageways, malacious doubles, that sort of thing. I felt sad, sitting at that little table, like I was carrying something heavy in me I couldn’t let go. Maybe I needed to be social?

“I’m a human being and I feel upset,” I wrote. “And if I wanted to go out yesterday I could have just gone out.”

*

The night before I dreamt of cables. Locks. Readymade cables used for locking up patio furniture. Why didn’t I know about them? Why hadn’t I had already purchased them to help secure the bike lock on our patio? Cables… my god, what a stupid dream.

*

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An airplane doing slow maneuvers in the sky. An airplane. The weight is in my head and I don’t know what I want or what I’m looking for. I don’t want to make any friends, I swear that’s not it, perhaps I just want to go somewhere regularly and feel involved. I don’t have that in my life or at least I haven’t felt like I’ve had that lately. As soon as something ends or becomes undetermined or indeterminate I feel like it’s out of my life for good, when really it’s only my feeling that it’s out of my life for good that actually causes it to be out of my life for good. When I quit working at the video store that was in my neighbourhood I no longer knew how to maneuver that landscape socially so I just stopped going, or went to the store only with my wife as a way of protecting myself from my ex-co-workers. I felt badly that I had quit, even though it was the responsible thing to do and the best choice I could have made for myself. I should have just owned that but I didn’t know how to do that. Months later, when I saw a friend of mine from the store on the bus, I noticed that he seemed angry at me, and I realized that was because he must have felt I abadoned them. It was the first time I had spoken to him in a while.

*

I wanted to write certain things, I had a clear idea of what I wanted to write, but now I feel worked up and I don’t want to write anything. Nothing.

*

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My brain is having a lot of difficulty processing basic thoughts right now. Basic feelings. “You write as if you have something to hide.” No, that can’t be true, because I have nothing to hide. Except the basic shame of human existence, possibly.

*

Write as if you’re a detective, an angry detective. A detective angry that clues have to be gathered and deductions made. Angry that he or she has to add his or her work to the pile of shit that’s already grown too large in the world. When someone dies, can’t that just be the end of it? Can’t we cut back some of the bramble gathering everywhere? “Don’t be heartless.” “You’re right.”

*

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I feel insecure, and when I feel insecure I want the attention of every human being. I want to be consoled by strangers and their interest in me. That’s what I want, but if that happens in reality I feel threatened. “Don’t look at me, don’t touch me, if I don’t know you,” is on repeat in my brain, while my tone of voice and my eyes seem to encourage strangers to come ever closer. It’s selfish, I guess. If I was being truthful I’d say that even though they both make me nervous, I want the attention of women more than men. Sometimes men frighten me.

“I swear to god if anyone tries to talk to me I’ll overturn this table and run like a scared antelope, bounding over hedge after hedge.”

“Bounding? Hedge?”

“Oh, jesus christ, fuck off.”

*

“I couldn’t imagine anything I’d rather do last Canada day than spend my time with her, at the store. I didn’t care one bit about the time-and-a-half. I didn’t do much, generally, so it’s not likely I would have been invited to a party or a barbecue, although I had more friends than I realized. Another reason I wanted to go to the store was that nothing else I’d have done would have included her… Just to stand next to her at the cash registers was enough. It was enough for me at that time. I don’t know if I loved her. But if love at first sight is real, then I felt that when I first looked at her; more than I’ve ever felt for anyone else at any other point in my life, in fact. It seemed impossible that she could exist and share the same physical plane as me. I got to know her with a determination I rarely show. If love isn’t just a sickness, one person’s vulnerability grafted onto another, then perhaps that was love.”

“What? A sickness?”

*

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I’m at Victory Café. I kind of hate it here, irrationally. It’s no place to be alone. But I’ve drunk less than half my beer and already I’m feeling better. The weight is lifting. I’m reading Adrienne Rich’s essay, “Jane Eyre: The Temptations of a Motherless Woman.” At another table a man is talking about (among other things), a way of getting people to talk about themselves by telling simple stories about the houses they grew up in. It’s a way of learning a lot about a person really quickly, what would normally take months.

*

“D is obsessed with you. After hearing that story about you drinking alone at Fran’s when you were 19. He thinks you’re like Glenn Gould.” Me, like Glenn Gould? Because I’m often alone? I guess it’s true that part of being Glenn Gould is being alone, irreconceivably alone, always. The only way I feel better is if I’m playing my piano. Or thinking about playing my piano.

Okay, I don’t know much about Glenn Gould, truthfully.

*

“Oh, god, what’s happening here,” he said, looking out the window. “Where has everybody gone?” Just then there was a knock on the door. “Yes? Who is it?” he asked impatiently. “It’s me, sir.” “Malcolm—what do you want?” “Me and some of the others, we got this for you.” He turned around. Malcolm was trembling and holding a silver plate with a silk handkerchief monogrammed in gold thread. “Is that it?” “We don’t have much.” “Please get out. And shut the door behind you.” “Where should I leave this?” “Take it with you,” he said, turning back to the window.

*

two-movie-stars

FINAL VERDICT: Three point five out of ten. The action is solid, but it never soars. Like a cement truck. Blastowitz is a human of insane size and I sometimes felt badly about myself in comparison. I understand that for most men he represents a power fantasy and I hated those men while I was playing the game. The narrative is boring, and they burn the most interesting moment about thirty or forty minutes into the game. I’d already watched that moment on a video game website. I never wanted to look for tools or toys or intelligence. I didn’t care about the hideoout or having sex. I felt underestimated and inconsolable. Thankfully, I didn’t finish the game.

The Chimp Needed a Cuddle

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Water for Elephants is Sarah Gruen’s New York Times bestseller about a Cornell-educated veterinarian joining a circus during the depression. It is also the worst book I have ever finished.

The book strays in many ways, but Gruen’s number one mistake is not being true to the characters or situation. The narrative is continuously, actively, dishonest, hiding details from you in a blatant effort to surprise you later. An example: the book opens with a chapter that seems to suggest the protagonist’s love interest kills her husband, but it’s later revealed (in a modified version of the same chapter) that the actual killer was an elephant. Oh, and that the dead husband (surprise!) was a paranoid schizophrenic who sometimes hit her. So it’s okay, everyone.

The entire book rests on the laurels of lazy gimmick: “Jacob Jankowski”, our Polish protagonist, joins the circus completely by accident. Once his parents have died in a freak car crash, his inheritance is seized by a bank, and he fails his final exams, he wanders away from town and finds himself in the middle of nowhere, walking along a set of train tracks. When the next train comes, he decides to hop it. “Decides” suggests too much in this context: the train comes, and implicitly Jacob knows that he has to jump it. Why? Because it’s a circus train, and this story is about a circus! I’m not trying to be “punchy” or “cute”; that is the literal motivation presented.

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The Lost Form of The Known World

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The Known World by Edward P. Jones is, for the most part, too plodding and serious a book. Maybe that is too harsh criticism: the character’s suffering is worthy and deeply felt, and there is enough life to give the book a spark. But it’s slow in that contemporaneous literary way, and it was released in paperback (one year, two years after its first print?) with a selection of stodgily researched “facts” and tepid questions for the book club set, already hinting that, as a work, it is “major”. Jones is an excellent writer, but the book fails partly because it knows its audience too well; it is too finely marketed.

One and a half years later I can pick out many moments, but I cannot give you an accurate summary of the plot. It is probably impossible to resolve the idea of slavery, and Jones gives a good account of it, but the book feels incomplete. Perhaps it is only that I wish the book Jones had written were another, one that he hints at very briefly, in a single chapter.

A powerful white man loses his family to sickness and his estate to creditors. He is ruined, and sets his manor on fire. It burns to the ground. For a time the property is abandoned.

The crops would escape the fire and would thrive, tended by no one. The fields had not had such bounty in more than seven years. There would be no harvest in the usual sense, as no one came to reap what the slaves had sown. Had someone counted up what the crops the fields had to give, it would have come to more than $325 a slave.

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Synecdoche, New York

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“You can’t feel sympathy for someone that’s depressed?
-Charlie Kaufman

The above words might as well be on the playbill, somewhere before and after the name of Synecdoche, New York’s first-time director, Charlie Kaufman, celebrated screenwriter of Adaptation and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. Not only because depression is a theme that we’ve come to expect from Kaufman, but because the movie in question works so hard to establish it as a condition. There are few real characters. Philip Seymour Hoffman plays depression, which is named Caden in this movie. As far as he is allowed, he does a good job. His depression is infectious. It seems that you are meant to feel sorry for him, it’s the only aspect of his character that you can cling to, but there is nothing particularly endearing about symptom.

Caden has many chances to display his: his marriage is failing; he’s diagnosed with a series of mysterious and frightening diseases; he’s lonely. But it’s not really enough for a character to tell you that he is lonely, that must be revealed over the natural course of a plot: in Adaptation, it was during Kaufman’s attempt to turn a book about orchids into a movie; in Eternal Sunshine, it was through memories and responses to a failed relationship. Both movies were not straightforward in their approach, but they approached something and they succeeded, a fact Synecdoche does its best to ignore. The plot is hard to relate sensibly, but I will explain the aspect that is most compelling: Caden is directing a show based exactly on his life, endlessly workshopped in a New York warehouse containing a near-exact replica of New York. His wife and mistress are cast, his neighbours, a man is hired to play his doppelganger, another is hired to play his doppelganger’s doppelganger. The concept would be interesting, if only Caden had a life worth aping. Continue reading →